Highway Over the Clyde:
The Kingston Bridge, Part 1 - Planning
The Kingston Bridge is one of Glasgow’s most iconic structures. A stunning example of post war architecture and planning, the slender concrete arch remains a key part of Scotland’s transport infrastructure and a crucial piece of the M8 motorway.
Completed on 26th June 1970, the construction of the bridge and its approach roads remains one of the most ambitious urban motorway projects undertaken in the UK. Alleviating traffic congestion on the existing city centre bridges, its completion led to significant reductions in journey times and accident rates.
W.A Fairhurst and
Marples Ridgeway Ltd.
The Kingston Bridge is arguably the most important piece of the M8 motorway. Used by over 155,000 vehicles every day, it is one of the busiest urban bridges in Europe. This iconic structure, and the urban motorway scheme of which it is a part, has become indelibly associated with Glasgow’s post-war redevelopment. Construction of the bridge and its extensive complex of approach roads in the late 1960s dramatically changed the character of Anderston and Tradeston.
The desire for a new crossing of the Clyde grew from the recommendations of City Engineer Robert Bruce’s “First Planning Report” published in 1945. As part of his proposals for an Inner Ring Road, a new quay level bridge was proposed. The idea was taken forward in the early 1960s when Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners was appointed to develop proposals for a motorway ring encircling the city centre.
Work on the project, which would link the sprawling Anderston and Shields Road Comprehensive Development Areas (CDA), began in 1961 when Glasgow Corporation appointed W.A. Fairhurst & Partners to produce a detailed design. Holford & Associates were appointed as Consulting Architect, continuing in the role they had held since the design of the Townhead Interchange.
Various options were considered for what was initially known as the Carnoustie Street Bridge. The Corporation was particularly interested in a two-level structure that kept motorway and local traffic separate but this idea was blocked by the Clyde Navigation Trust. The Trust was reluctantly prepared to consider closing docks upstream of the proposed bridge, but they refused to permit any structure that would prevent dredging the topmost reaches of the tidal river, as this was essential to maintain navigable water downstream.
These illustrations from 1961 provide a glimpse of the early ideas being considered by the design team. The name of the original artist is unknown.
Design and Construction
In the mid-1960s designs for a soaring 268.5m long bridge carrying ten lanes of 50mph motorway 18.5m above the river were revealed to the public. The Kingston Bridge, as it was now named, would allow for traffic growth till 1990 by which time 120,000 vehicles were expected to use the crossing every day. An extensive complex of approach roads was also outlined.
The designers noted that their proposal was actually for two parallel independent 20.8m wide ‘superstructures’ that would each carry one carriageway. In effect, the bridge is formed from two sets of three hollow prestressed in situ concrete ‘boxes’ sitting side by side and held together by substantial concrete diaphragms. The ‘boxes’ rest on two reinforced concrete piers.
The slip roads and approach viaducts would be carried on more than 100 slender supports with an “interesting and elegant” parabolic cross-section that quickly earned them the affectionate nickname Willie Fairhurst’s Troosers, a reference to the bridge’s designer.
Two interchanges were included in the proposals. At the north end of the project, connections were to be provided to the city centre via ramps at Bothwell Street, Waterloo Street, North Street and Newton Street. Ramps at Stobcross Street would provide connections to the proposed Clydeside Expressway. North facing slips were also to be provided at Argyle Street. At the south end of the project, allowances were made for the future connection of the bridge to the South Flank of the Inner Ring Road and the M8 Renfrew Motorway.
Section and elevation drawings of the bridge help to illustrate its interesting design. The bridge is comprised of two sets of three hollow concrete box girders. These span across the river, reaching their narrowest point at mid-span.
A network of footbridges and pedestrian walkways were proposed to maintain existing links and to improve access to the city centre. One such bridge across the north approach intended to connect sections of the Anderston CDA, was, like the podium at Charing Cross, left unfinished against the engineer’s advice. The Corporation expected it to be quickly completed as part of their proposals for the Anderston Centre. Those plans were subsequently scaled back leaving the bridge, by now dubbed “the bridge to nowhere”, unfinished for more than 40 years. Funding from the charity Sustrans allowed it to be completed in 2013 and it now forms part of the national cycle network.
The Anderston Centre footbridge remained unfinished until 2013, over 40 years after its intended completion.
The required Parliamentary Orders for land acquisition and construction were approved in June 1966 and tenders for construction were invited in autumn that year. Construction began with work the north approach viaduct. A ceremony attended by the Lord Provost marked the start of work on 15th May 1967. Just a few months later, the new structures could be seen rising from the ground on the mile-long site stretching from Scotland Street to St. Vincent Street.
The contractor, a joint venture of Duncan Logan Ltd. and Marples Ridgeway Ltd., constructed the main span using the ‘balanced cantilever method’. The box girders were cast in 3.5m sections working outwards from both support piers till the two halves met above the river in late 1969. This approach meant that the river and busy surface streets could remain open to traffic throughout the project.
The approach viaducts were constructed simultaneously and, by casting their supports in order from tallest to shortest, the contractor was able re-use the same set of shutters to save money and accelerate progress.
Top: The "balanced cantilever" method of construction is clear to see in this night time shot of the north end of the bridge from 1969. © Newsquest (Herald & Times).
Above: The approach viaducts were constructed simultaneously and required over 100 support columns. © The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
Other innovations included mounting internally illuminated signage on distinctive overhead gantries that would later be connected to the city’s traffic control system. These remain in use today. In common with other elevated sections of the inner ring road, an electric under road heating system was installed to prevent the build-up of snow and ice, though this technology did not prove entirely successful in service.
The construction site stretched for almost one mile from St. Vincent Street to Scotland Street. It is shown well in this aerial photo looking south across the site in 1969.
© Newsquest (Herald & Times).
The Kingston Bridge was completed on schedule and opened by HRH The Queen Mother on Friday 26th June 1970. The project cost over £11 million (£180 million at today’s prices) including land, construction and service diversions. It was the most expensive of all the Inner Ring Road construction contracts: 75% of the cost was provided by the Scottish Development Department. Glasgow Corporation viewed the project as a significant achievement and it garnered interest from around the world.
HRH The Queen Mother, accompanied by Councillor William Hunter (left) and Lord Provost Donald Liddle (behind), prepares to cut the ribbon at the bridge opening ceremony on 26th June 1970. Image courtesy of Glasgow City Archives (Ref TD1575/2/62)
The Kingston Bridge was the first section of the Inner Ring Road to be provided with overhead sign gantries. These were connected to the city's remotely controlled traffic system a few years later. The internally illuminated sign gantries remain in use today.
From the Archive
This article was first published in October 2020. Updated March 2022.
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